•The late Dele Giwa (left), IBB (right)

Contrary to the persistent denials by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd) that  he has nothing to do with the assassination of Newswatch magazine founding  Editor-In-Chief, Dele Giwa, 24 years ago, his former aide, Major Debo Bashorun  insists the former military president has a case to answer.

Bashorun, the military press secretary to Babangida, spilled the beans in his  forthcoming memoir, an excerpt which was made available to P.M.NEWS this morning.

According to the retired major who was hounded out of the military because he  refused to do the bidding of his master, “it is quite possible that I am the only  person alive today that could substantiate the Babangida administration’s dubious  actions, certainly worth investigation, in relation to the assassination of Dele  Giwa. And in a determined attempt  to stop me from divulging what I know, a strategy  was put in place apparently to ensure that the secret goes with me to the grave.”

He adds: “Although Newswatch had as much resisted the temptation to treat the  President (Babangida) as an ogre despite evidence linking his regime to the murder of Dele Giwa, it would still have not taken a genius to figure out that the government’s  apathy was meant to exact revenge on the paper’s (Newswatch) relentless campaign to  unmask the killer(s.)”

Bashorun writes that the failure of the Babangida regime to congratulate Ray Ekpu,  one of the founding editors of Newswatch magazine, who had won the International  Journalist of the Year Award in 1988, two years after Dele Giwa was assassinated  through a  parcel bomb, became a matter of public concern “which saw our position as  a sign of intolerance for criticisms against some of our policies.”

He had to raise the issue at a presidential staff meeting. It was on the basis of  this that Babangida accepted to send a congratulatory letter to Ray Ekpu and the  Management of Newswatch. But he later developed a cold feet after the meeting with  Colonel Halilu Akilu who was the director of Military Intelligence. Instead,  Babangida decided that Ray Ekpu and his colleagues should be given money which they  initially rejected but later collected under pressure.

Bashorun was then ordered to attend the award ceremony in America where he was to  gather information from Nigerian guests at the event about how they felt about the  murder of Dele Giwa. He was given some gadgets for the recording.

To quote Bashorun: “The nature of that package, at that point, indicated that there  was no longer a doubt about my belated suspicions over the murder which had become a  malignant tumour for our administration. I was awestruck by this indirect  self-implication of the government’s involvement, at some level or the other, in the  circumstances of the crime. True, accusing fingers had been pointed in its  direction, voices raised in direct accusations, but the suppositions were still  hypothetical. Akilu’s proposal only confirmed the complicity of Babangida and Akilu,  for how could they have suddenly embarked on this new adventure after seemingly  perfecting their denial stance in a brutal crime that was without precedent in  Nigeria. The government’s implicit acknowledgement of a cover-up interest in the  crime, as expressed through the Director of Military Intelligence, showed that he  and the president knew more than they had publicly admitted.

“My memory quickly switched to the president’s hostile reaction after my visit with  Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo, (then Inspector General of Police) in my quest to find out  the progress  of the so-called  investigation into the assassination. Akilu  proceeded with his brief. On my arrival in New York, I was to contact the leader of  a group of public relations experts whose name and phone numbers were listed on a  piece of paper he produced. He went further that after establishing the contact, I  should invite the man over to my hotel for discussions on which approach to take  concerning the purported propaganda package. I was also to furnish him with all  relevant inside information of our administration that would be necessary to perfect  the strategy. Stressing once again his demand for my full cooperation, the colonel  insisted that it was the only way that the blood-stained reputation that Dele’s  murder had given our regime could be cleansed.

“Akilu went  even further. In addition to this primary assignment, I was also  expected to carry out some eavesdropping activities on our compatriots who would  grace the award ceremony. To facilitate the latter, the officer brought out a small  equipment that resembled an audiometer with flat rubber tops and different wires  dangling from an athlete’s bag which had been lying in a corner. My hear felt it was  jumping out of my body but I tried not to show how scared I was. Akilu then followed  with a demonstration of how to wear it on himself. My first reaction was to wonder  why the president would want my participation in this diabolical scheme when his  American contacts could have assembled the package without my involvement. I began  to have this strong feeling that the whole scheme was nothing but a set-up with  hidden dangers for me. My brain must have been turning like a cyclone in the head.

“First, the thought of trying to spy on my compatriots bothered me even as much the  possibility of being caught in the act became a terrifying reality. Another scary  aspect of the mission was the chances of being intercepted by U.S law enforcement  agencies while carrying such sophisticated equipment on my person.  My looks must  have said it all but the ‘lecturer’ was quick to interject that his demonstration  was only to familiarise me with the equipment and that my acquaintance-to-be in New  York would provide me with a similar gadget during our meeting. Perhaps the biggest  worry was how to handle the newly discovered secret that the government had an  unhealthily suspicious interest in Dele’s gruesome murder without becoming a victim  myself. I was still struggling to muster the courage for questions when Akilu  delivered the blow that completely weakened me at the knees. He emphatically stated  that the eavesdropping aspect of the mission was meant to wrap up the evidence  allegedly gathered already that Dele’s colleagues – Yakubu Mohammed, Ray Ekpu and  Dan Agbese actually orchestrated the killing to facilitate their take-over of the  company…

“:But then, why would the president present the media executives with cash gifts if  he already knew they were conspirators in the murder? Why was he trying to be nice  to people who through their alleged complicity were the same people destroying name  of his administration? It was no good arguing with someone who takes you for a fool.  After finishing with his demonstration of the equipment, the intelligence chief then  moved down to the adjoining room and brought out a packet of micro-mini cassette  recorders which he claimed would act as a back-up for secretly recording of  conversations of other Nigerians who may turn up at the venue of the ceremony. This  equipment would have passed for an ordinarily famous American cigarette pack which  adorned its cover and was identical to the one given to me by the president for  recording speeches during the Dele Giwa Memorial Week about two years earlier.

“The tape recorder, the name of the man to meet in New York together with his phone  numbers and Atiku’s private numbers gave me sufficient reasons to start bothering  about my own safety. In addition, my air ticket issued by the Protocol Department  was inexplicably routed through Abidjan and London. This kept me wondering why a  direct flight ticket straight to New York which would have saved the government some  money was not procured. The ticket – purchased from a foreign airline – also  violated government standing regulations which forbade the patronage of such  businesses where a Nigerian Airways flight was available.

“The circumstances surrounding the routing of the ticket further fuelled my  suspicions that something was amiss and because of that, I decided to leave the tape  recorders at home instead of carrying them with me on the trip. I reasoned that if  the need became urgently pressing, it would not be difficult to purchase some from  Department Stores scattered all over New York. Boarding the aircraft presented no  hassle because of my familiarity with the terrain but once airborne, the reality of  being an unwilling accomplice in a venture which did not evolve by happenstance but  rather by design took control. It then dawned on me that the tape recorder could  have been a bugging device or something used for other covert purposes and the  consequences of being caught with it frightened the hell out of me. I decided to  leave it at home before I boarded the plane, having resolved to proceed in a manner  that would render this, in advance, as mission impossible.”

Bashorun had revealed in a newspaper interview last June that he was being hounded  because of the book and the facts it contains on who killed Giwa.

According to him, “I was privy to some of the terrible things… My problem is 2011.  Babangida wants to become president again. I am not saying I am the only person, but  I am one of those who know that he is connected to the death of Dele Giwa. That is  why they have been trying to kill me.

“I was sent to do a dirty job in America in respect of Dele Giwa’s death. I was sent  to cover up what they did. I refused to comply. When I came back, they threw me into  jail. Newspapers reported it that time. I protested. The press was on my side then.  I was shouting on the roof top that ‘these people want to kill me.’ They decided to  send me to a unit in Makurdi, which was a Siberia then. I refused to go.  Incidentally, the General Staff Headquarters, which was my unit (and Babangida’s  unit too), issued an order that whoever wanted to leave the army should volunteer.  It coincided with what was happening to me. So, I volunteered and resigned. I quoted  their order in the resignation letter I sent them. But out of those who resigned  then, I was the only person whose resignation letter was rejected. I contacted some  attorneys. Alao Aka-Bashorun was my lawyer.”

He added: “Babangida has assembled a think tank of south-westerners who have warned  him of my tell-all book that is about to be launched. They warned him that if I am  allowed to launch the book, the expose contained there will totally destroy his  chances of even gaining a foothold any where in the South-West.”

Major Debo Bashorun’s book will soon be published in and outside of Nigeria.

—Ade Owojela

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